Capitalizing on Hard Mast Production

A white oak on a 69 acre hunting tract for sale in Halifax County
A white oak on a 69 acre hunting tract for sale in Halifax County

There isn’t much that attracts a whitetail more than a lush, green food plot planted in a secluded field. Thousands of deer eat their last bite in these well designed and managed food plots every year. Of course, there are other natural food sources available to deer and if you scout properly, you can find where the majority of your deer herd will be at certain times of the year.

Hard mast production refers to tree and plant species that produce a fruit or nut that whitetails find desirable. The first thing that comes to mind is probably oaks. All oaks are considered hard mast and while they can have a huge impact on your hunting, there is much more to them than meets the eye. There are two families of oaks. The white oak family and the red oak family. There are many variations of these species. For example, North Carolina and Virginia are full of common white oaks, chestnut oaks, and post oaks. All of the aforementioned oaks are in the white oak family. These particular oaks produce an acorn that has a minimal amount of tannin content, making the acorn less bitter than red oak acorns. On the other hand, red oak acorns have a high tannin content and while whitetails will stop whatever feeding pattern they are in to gorge themselves on acorns, they will actively seek out the white oaks first. Common red oaks are the southern red oak, the northern red oak, scarlet oak, water oak, laurel oaks, and willow oaks.

Deciphering the exact species can be difficult. I would suggest either learning or honing your skills to identify the differences in white oak and red oak tree species in general. The white oak family trees typically have flaky bark that is light gray in color, while red oaks consist of a dark colored bark with light colored lines running vertically up and down the tree trunk.

Many times hunters will be patterning a particular buck, or deer activity in general, when suddenly the deer activity plummets. They find themselves scratching their heads trying to reason what the problem is. Usually it’s because the deer have found something more appealing to eat and shifted their patterns. In our region the oaks will begin dropping acorns anytime from late September through October, which is usually a tough time to pattern a deer. Take a walk in the woods with a pair of binoculars and check out what they acorn production looks like this year. There are many biological factors that determine the crop production of acorns but by scouting ahead of time you will know where to hunt before the acorns begin dropping.

Andrew Walters